Carl Sandburg





How the Five Rusty Rats Helped Find a New Village


    One day while Wing Tip the Spick was visiting her four uncles in the Village 
of Liver-and-Onions, a blizzard came up. Snow filled the sky and the wind 
blew and made a noise like heavy wagon axles grinding and crying.
    And on this day a gray rat came to the house of the four uncles, a rat with 
gray skin and gray hair, gray as the gray gravy on a beefsteak. The rat had a 
basket. In the basket was a catfish. And the rat said, “Please let me have a 
little fire and a little salt as I wish to make a little bowl of hot catfish soup to 
keep me warm through the blizzard.”
    And the four uncles all said together, “This is no time for rats to be around—
and we would like to ask you where you got the catfish in the basket.”
    “Oh, oh, oh, please—in the name of the five rusty rats, the five lucky rats of 
the Village of Cream Puffs, please don’t,” was the exclamation of Wing Tip the 
Spick.
    The uncles stopped. They looked long and deep into the eyes of Wing Tip 
the Spick and thought, as they had thought before, how her eyes were clear 
light blue the same as cornflowers with blue raindrops shining on the silver leaves 
in a summer sun shower.
    And the four uncles opened the door and let the gray rat come in with the 
basket and the catfish. They showed the gray rat the way to the kitchen and 
the fire and the salt. And they watched the rat and kept him company while he 
fixed himself a catfish soup to keep him warm traveling through the blizzard 
with the sky full of snow.
    After they opened the front door and let the rat out and said good-by, they 
turned to Wing Tip the Spick and asked her to tell them about the five rusty 
lucky rats of the Village of Cream Puffs where she lived with her father and her 
mother and her folks.
    “When I was a little girl growing up, before I learned all I learned since I got 
older, my grandfather gave me a birthday present because I was nine years old. 
I remember how he said to me, ‘You will never be nine years old again after this 
birthday, so I give you this box for a birthday present.’
   “In the box was a pair of red slippers with a gold clock on each slipper. One of 
the clocks ran fast. The other clock ran slow. And he told me if I wished to be early 
anywhere I should go by the clock that ran fast. And if I wished to be late anywhere 
I should go by the clock that ran slow.
    “And that same birthday he took me down through the middle of the Village of 
Cream Puffs to the public square near the Roundhouse of the Big Spool. There 
he pointed his finger at the statue of the five rusty rats, the five lucky rats. And as 
near as I can remember his words, he said:
    "Many years ago, long before the snow birds began to wear funny little slip-on 
hats and funny little slip-on shoes, and away back long before the snow birds 
learned how to slip off their slip-on hats and how to slip off their slip-on shoes, 
long ago in the faraway Village of Liver-and-Onions, the people who ate cream 
puffs came together and met in the streets and picked up their baggage and put 
their belongings on their shoulders and marched out of the Village of Liver-and-
Onions saying, “We shall find a new place for a village and the name of it shall 
be the Village of Cream Puffs. 
    "They marched out on the prairie with their baggage and belongings in sacks 
on their shoulders. And a blizzard came up. Snow filled the sky. The wind blew 
and blew and made a noise like heavy wagon axles grinding and crying.
    "The snow came on. The wind twisted all day and all night and all the next day. 
The wind changed black and twisted and spit icicles in their faces. They got lost 
in the blizzard. They expected to die and be buried in the snow for the wolves to 
come and eat them.
    "Then the five lucky rats came, the five rusty rats, rust on their skin and hair, 
rust on their feet and noses, rust all over, and especially, most especially of all, 
rust on their long curved tails. They dug their noses down into the snow and 
their long curved tails stuck up far above the snow where the people who were 
lost in the blizzard could take hold of the tails like handles.
    "And so, while the wind and the snow blew and the blizzard beat its icicles in 
their faces, they held on to the long curved tails of the rusty rats till they came 
to the place where the Village of Cream Puffs now stands. It was the rusty rats 
who saved their lives and showed them where to put their new village. That is 
why this statue now stands in the public square, this statue of the shapes of 
the five rusty rats, the five lucky rats with their noses down in the snow and 
their long curved tails lifted high out of the snow.’


    “That is the story as my grandfather told it to me. And he said it happened 
long ago, long before the snow birds began to wear slip-on hats and slip-on 
shoes, long before they learned how to slip off the slip-on hats and to slip off 
the slip-on shoes.”
    “O-h-h-h,” said one of the uncles. “Um-m-m-m,” said the other three uncles.
    “And sometime,” added Wing Tip the Spick, “when you go away from the Village 
of Liver-and-Onions and cross the Shampoo River and ride many miles across the 
upland prairie till you come to the Village of Cream Puffs, you will find a girl there 
who loves four uncles very much.
    “And if you ask her politely, she will show you the red slippers with gold clocks on 
them, one clock to be early by, the other to be late by. And if you are still more polite 
she will take you through the middle of the town to the public square and show you 
the statue of the five rusty lucky rats with their long curved tails sticking up in the air 
like handles. And the tails are curved so long and so nice you will feel like going up 
and taking hold of them to see what will happen to you.”